If you did a lot of long-term travel as a single person or young couple it’s easy to assume that having a family will curtail, or at least change, your travel plans for a while. When you backpack around the world as a young singleton, staying in hostels and taking short-term backpacker jobs, you may not notice many families with young children on the road. Does that mean they’re all staying home, or going to all-inclusive family-friendly resorts where opportunities for ‘real’ travel is severely limited?
Not necessarily. There are plenty of families traveling the world with young children, and many of them are finding that having the kids in tow actually enriches their travel experience. Here are some of the reasons why traveling with your kids be an even better adventure than some of your pre-parenthood travels.
You take it slower
If you can do ten hours straight in a car with two tiny terrors in the back then you’re a better (or perhaps deafer) parent than I am. I love road trips, especially in a foreign country, but I know that in the past I’ve probably missed out on things along the way. It’s harder to miss out when you travel with kids as they need to stop, stretch their legs, find a bathroom and let off steam at (very) regular intervals.
You’re less likely to push on to the next town when the kids are tired and hungry and will therefore see places you’d never have stopped at under other circumstances. You may cover less ground in any given time traveling with kids, but you’ll see more of what there is to see, just because you’ll be forced to take it slower and stop more frequently. The results are often a more interesting, quirkier and in-depth travel experience.
They’re an icebreaker
Young children can break through cultural and language barriers with enviable ease. Try sitting on a beach, or in a café, or strolling through a new village and observe your kids. If there are other kids within playing distance, a game will soon ensue, and if language differences make it difficult to communicate about the rules, then… Well, who needs rules? Playing the game is often a goal in itself.
In many cultures, kids are welcomed, adored and pampered. Local families may identify with you more, feel more motivated to communicate with you and be more comfortable about inviting you into their home if you’re traveling as a family yourselves.
Kids can break the ice with strangers by fussing over a pet, asking impertinent questions (which only sound cute coming from someone three feet tall), or asking to join in a game. None of these are as easy to carry off if you’re an adult traveling alone.
You get better value for money
Anyone who has indulged in long-term budget travel will probably have already discovered that hitting the road for a year and acquiring experiences is actually often cheaper than staying home and acquiring stuff. Having kids invariably leads to an even higher level of consumerism. On the road with kids you cut down on the expenses of new clothes and toys (not to mention expensive childcare and extra-curricular activities) and replace them with priceless new, shared experiences which are often free or very cheap.
Many people are put off travel with a family, thinking that a family of four will spend four times as much as an individual traveler. That’s not usually the case. Babies and young children can fly for free or almost free on most airlines, if your child is young enough to share your seat (usually under two years old). If your kids are over two you will have to pay out big for flights (few airlines give any kind of discount for kids once they’re occupying their own seat) but once your on the road family travel can be pretty good value. In fact sometimes four (or more) can travel as cheaply as one.
One site for your tent at a campsite often costs the same regardless of how many people there are in it, and certainly wilderness camping (often free or by donation in government maintained wilderness areas) is the same. If you’re renting a car you’ll pay the same and use the same fuel if you have a couple of kids in the back, and kids stay free at many hotels and even eat free with a paying adults at some restaurants. You’ll need to do some research to find the good deals, but travel costs don’t necessarily increase in direct proportion to the number of travelers.
You get to see the world through their eyes
Kids see things differently. They have a whole different angle on things, and it’s not just because they’re shorter and therefore closer to the ground, although that can help sometimes too. Kids see the wonder in a new place, new activities, new animals and new food (OK sometimes they spit it out too, you just never know with kids).
As an adult it can be hard to feel the true sense of wonder you probably should at seeing your first real live kangaroo, orangutan, or giant bird-eating spider, and you might miss that giant earth worm or strange looking lizard completely because you’re just too high up.
Kids will draw your attention to all that and more. They tend to comment on sounds, smells, tastes and textures that are strange to them. The things you might take for granted and not even note in your travel journal, which is a shame because that kind of detail makes for great memories of your travels at a later date, not to mention wonderfully descriptive writing if you plan to try your hand at travel writing.
Traveling with kids means you get involved in activities you might have missed out on. Would you have taken that miniature train ride, visited that wildlife rescue center or talked to that snake charmer if your kids hadn’t insisted on it. Maybe not, and often your travel experience is richer for having done these things.
You have the pleasure of seeing your kids grow and learn in a way that just isn’t possible back home
Traveling is an education. An altogether different, more challenging and more pleasurable education than your kids will ever get in school.
You’ll get to see your kids learning a few words of a foreign language, how to make and break camp, how to hike through wilderness areas without impacting the natural environment, and how to read a map.
You’ll see them gaining a knowledge and understanding of other cultures, and witness the sense of connection they feel as world geography and history starts to make sense to them, based on their own experiences and observations.
You become closer as a family
In a world where many families don’t even have time to eat dinner together on a regular basis, imagine a few weeks, months or even years spent traveling together, eating, sleeping, learning and adventuring together.
Imagine building a foundation of shared experience and memories to draw on as your kids grow up and away and start families of their own.
Traveling together gives family members one of the few things money can’t buy – the time and opportunity to grow closer as a family. Doesn’t every kid, and parent, deserve that chance?
About the author:
Karen Banes is a student, traveler, parent, book addict, freelance writer and aspiring photographer. She is currently trying to combine these passions at her new website about traveling with kids.
Twins and friend by Gin Fizz on Flickr, In The Forest by theloushe on Flickr, Camping by elfsternberg on Flickr, Pigeons by mrlerone on Flickr, Statue and child by Julie70 on Flickr, Eiffel Tower family by Santiago… on Flickr